Review: The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy by Charles Fourier

Charles Fourier (1772-1837) is a taxonomist, which in this case should absolutely be confused with taxidermist. In certain ways, The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy prove that he’s both. The book is an organized collection of all the different types of cuckolds and all the different types of bankruptcy. Cuckoldry comes first. Each cuckold is divided into three classes (Common Class, Short-Horned Class, and Long-Horned Class) and then the sub-categories correspond to parts of wings: Left Wing Tip, Right Flank, and so on. In other words, they are “arranged progressively into classes, genres, and species squared and divided by 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,6,5,4,3,2,1” (Hierarchies, p 8-9). Obviously. The second half of the book, which lists bankruptcies, has similar logic to its organization.

Reading this maniacally categorized collection of types, cases, species, wings, and branches of bankruptcies and cuckoldries, charmingly translated for the first time into English by Geoffry Longnecker, is like looking at a file cabinet. More specifically, it’s like looking at a wall of tiny file cabinet drawers, each of which is meticulously labeled with things like: THE ATTILA BANKRUPTCY or THE BOGEYMAN CUCKOLD or THE DELUDED BANKRUPTCY or THE SEEDY CUCKOLD. What’s so lovely about the collection of drawers (49 for Cuckoldry and 36 for Bankruptcy) is that they remain completely mysterious.

Fourier never offers to open any drawers for the reader to examine the contents with their own eyes. Instead he describes the contents in his own words, and then moves on to the next drawer where he proceeds to do the exact same thing. We never get to see his preserved and stuffed bankruptcies and his glass-eyed and many-horned cuckolds. Its like going to a menagerie where all the cages are covered with curtains and at each cage, the animal inside is described to us without the curtain ever lifting.”Why how very dull,” you might be saying, “why on earth would I want to go to the zoo if I’m not going to see the animals?” Moving away from zoos, and back to the book, why would The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy –essentially a glorified list–be worth reading? Why would Wakefield Press publish this in something they call their “Imagining Series”? They have a great reason.

The reason is that Charles Fourier is a total wierdo (and blatant anti-Semite which was unfortunately not uncommon 200 years ago). The reader then, has the pleasure (and sometimes horror) of sharing company with an eccentric, wry, sarcastic man elucidating the societal problems of his lifetime through categorical descriptions. “What this volume ultimately offers,” Longnecker writes in the preface, “is a focus on Fourier the critic; Fourier the visionary utopian is a Fourier to be discovered and read beyond the purview of these hierarchies. That said, it would be an injustice to give the impression that Fourier was capable only of methodical mockery, and a rudimentary outline of his theory is necessary to demonstrate that he also had proposals for solutions to civilization’s woes” (Hierarchies, p xi).

He did indeed have solutions. For Fourier, Hierarchies was the first step to improving society. He writes, “we shall not fail to conclude with the search for a remedy; but in order to discover it, it is first necessary to analyze the illness and its causes” (Hierarchies, p 86). The haunting thing about this little book is that much of it remains quite timely. Sex and money are topics that are always relevant. Maybe it is time, again, to pinpoint the sour spots in our modern society, organize them, and then find ways to fix them.

Publisher: Wakefield Press
ISBN: 978-0-9841155-5-6
Binding: Softcover
Price: $12.95

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